The highways and rocketships of musicianship

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Florence Dore’s international tour will bring her to Rochester on April 1. (Photo by Melissa Payne)

In some ways, Florence Dore’s childhood meant music had to be a part of the singer/songwriter’s future life.

“Growing up in the late ’60s and ’70s, it was partly just listening to my mom’s records. I was listening to the Beatles before I knew how to write. I was buying records at the store before I was 10,” Dore recalls. “(At the roller skate park), I would skate around and make up songs, listening to the rhythm of the wheels, making up lyrics and melodies.”

Growing up in Nashville didn’t hurt Dore’s chances either. Her mother or other “hippie friends” would take her to see big names like Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez and Johnny Cash perform.

Still, while many people have both the experience of making up music in their childhood and growing up in Nashville, Dore put a unique spin on those influences. She ended up blending performance and academics together, earning a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley in 1999 and then releasing her first album, “Perfect City,” two years later.

Now, Dore is on an international tour that will bring her to Rochester on April 1 at the Abilene Bar & Lounge. She has never been to the city, but based on her experience booking the performance, she is excited to visit. Dore says Abilene’s owner has been supportive of the event, soliciting radio shows to play tracks and further promote the event.

“He just seems like a guy who really loves music, and you don’t always run into club owners who are like that,” the musician says.

Dore continues to blend high-brow scholarship with lived musician experience. She currently teaches in creative writing and literature programs at University of North Carolina and recently released a book, “The Ink in the Grooves: Conversations on Literature and Rock n’ Roll,” which reexamines and recontextualizes the rock genre’s place in modern music. Her newest record, “Highways & Rocketships,” was named 2022’s Best Americana Album by Lonesome Highway Magazine.

Dore herself feels a sense of relief the tour is on track following a tumultuous few years. Both education and music were hurt by the COVID pandemic. In fact, Dore was set to record songs for “Highways & Rocketships” at the Fidelitorium studio in March 2020, just before the coronavirus came fully into view for the United States.

“The recording (of ‘Rebel Debutante’) happened March 7, 2020. We were making jokes in the van like, ‘Don’t touch your face? Well, playing guitar, that’s one way not to touch your face.’ That was before it all dawned on us how serious it really was,” Dore says. “We were probably the last people to record in the studio and the first to come back in when it reopened.”

During the pandemic, Dore tried keeping her own musicianship active. She helped the Cat’s Cradle, a historic live venue in Chapel Hill, stay in business with a benefit album from North Carolina artists. “Ink in the Grooves” was also finalized during this time and touches on the COVID pandemic in some essays and interviews by other musicians.

For example, Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters, writes an emotional summary in the book of how stages disappeared during this time and the importance live music still has.

“Each night when I tell our lighting engineer to ‘Light ’em up!,’ I do so because I need that room to shrink, and to join with you as one under the harsh, fluorescent glow,” Grohl writes. “Without that audience—that screaming, sweating audience—my songs would only be sound.”

It’s a phenomenon that rings true for Dore as well. With her live performances, she has noticed a mutual appreciation between artist and audience.

“There’s something magical that happens when bodies are in the room. There’s no substitute for that magic. And I think everyone is so happy to be in the room now. There’s an appreciation of it,” she says.

“Highways & Rocketships” features heavily in her tour. With the 10-song album, Dore was originally inspired after doing academic research into vernacular language in rock ’n’ roll and wanted to both stay familiar, while also pushing her own artistic boundaries.

In particular, the songs “Wifi Heart” and “End of the World” best represent a spirit of experimentation to Dore. While the chord structure undoubtedly marks them as rock anthems, simpler does not mean less emotional, Dore recalls musician Steve Earle’s advice.

The rest of the album is filled with thoughtful tunes that use elements from rock, to alt country, to folk and blues. There is wistful reminiscence in “Sweet to Me’” but also indignant anger in “Thundercloud (Fucking with your heart).”

“I had so many cheerleaders in my corner,” says Dore, crediting her fellow band members, her husband (dB’s drummer Will Rigby), producer Jefferson Holt, and others. “It’s fun being married to a music encyclopedia and knowing all of his friends who are music encyclopedias, because they always can find an example of what you’re looking for.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “The highways and rocketships of musicianship

  1. The music business is a tough business. You love what you’re doing and you hope someone else appreciates your music as well. There are many who have tried, worked hard and went without to reach their goal. Some reach that goal and many others are left to enjoy someone else’s creation. I love music, almost all genres. That said, I don’t know a note from a two-by-four. I depend on those who chance it and succeed. I have a healthy respect for those that do. Congrats Florence!!

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